Pontoon Blackjack –  Rules, Strategy and free game to play

Introduction

Pontoon, ironically, is considered one of the games from which blackjack evolved. The version of Pontoon you get at online casinos today is offered by different major software providers, including, among others:

  • Microgaming
  • Playtech
  • BetSoft
  • Real Time Gaming
  • Cryptologic
  • Galewind Software

Playable Pontoon Blackjack game:

The house edge in Pontoon

The house edge in Pontoon from Playtech, RTG, Cryptologic, and Galewind Software is 0.38%. The house edge in Microgaming’s Pontoon game is 0.39%.

The modern version of Pontoon that you get at online casinos is a fun variant of regular blackjack and comes with a few changes, especially in some of the basic rules. We will discuss these differences in a later section, ‘How Pontoon is Different from Regular Blackjack’.

How to Play Pontoon Blackajck

A game of pontoon at an online casino uses anywhere between 2 and 8 card decks, depending on the casino and also the software provider. Pontoon is fun to play. The best hand in the game, unlike in blackjack, is called a ‘pontoon’.

The basic card values are the same as a regular game of blackjack.

  • Cards 2 to 9 are valued at face.
  • 10 to King are valued at 10 points each.
  • Ace is valued at 1 or 11, depending on the hand.

How pontoon is played at an online casino.

  • Place bets for the deal to begin.
  • The player is dealt two cards face-up.
  • The dealer’s cards are dealt face down.
  • The dealer peeks into his hand for ‘pontoon’. Dealer’s pontoon beats a player hand and the game ends.
  • Based on the hand the player has he can do one of the following:
    • Hit: Draw an additional card to strengthen the hand.
    • Stand: Stay put with the original hand.
    • Double down: Double the initial wager and draw another card; after that the player has to stand.
    • Split: Split a hand of 2 identical card values into individual hands. There is additional wagering on the hands and they are played separately.

Once the player has played his hand it is the dealer’s turn. He reveals his hand and draws cards till he has a hand of at least 17. Once the dealer’s hand is completed the one with the highest hand wins the game. Players are paid out based on their hand if they win.

How Pontoon is Different from Regular Blackjack

There are a few basic differences between Pontoon and a regular game of blackjack.

  • Higher number of decks results in a decrease in the house edge.
  • Both the dealer’s cards are dealt face-down.
  • The dealer peeks for pontoon once his cards are dealt.
  • Dealer’s move is made only after the player has completed his hand; this has a huge impact in terms of strategy. The player may have doubled down or split, only to be beaten by a higher hand or Pontoon by on the dealer’s hand.
  • Player loses on a tied hand.
  • When after splitting Aces the player gets a 2-card hand valued at 21, it is also declared a ‘pontoon’. In some games, this hand has a value of 21 but not considered a pontoon.

Hand Rankings in Pontoon

There are different hand rankings in Pontoon. The following are the major hand rankings.

  • The highest hand is the pontoon – a 2-card hand with an Ace and a 10-value card.
  • The next high hand is a 5-card trick. This is any 5-card hand that has not overshot 21 and busted. 5-card trick hands all have equal value; the individual hand value does not count.
  • A hand of 21 with a maximum of 4 cards. In this hand the individual hand values do matter; ranking is based on the individual values of the different 4-card hands.
  • A busted hand with a minimum value of 22.

Pontoon Rules

Pontoon differs from blackjack not just in terms of the basic deal but also some of the rules.

  • Players can stand only if they have one of the following:
    • A hand value higher than 15
    • A 5-card hand
  • Players can hit for any hand value as long as it does not result in a bust.
  • Hitting is allowed even after doubling down.
  • Doubling is allowed on 2 to 4 cards; however, doubling is allowed only once in a hand.
  • Doubling down is allowed even after splitting; the player can double down once for a split hand.
  • Splitting is allowed only on 2 cards of the same value.
  • Once a player splits Aces he can do one of the following:
  • Draw; this rule varies in the Microgaming variant of Pontoon: a player can draw only card per hand after splitting Aces.
  • Double down
  • Re-splitting is allowed in Pontoon.
  • A player can re-split once for 3 hands in all in a game.
  • Re-splitting of Aces is allowed.
  • The dealer hits until his hand value is a minimum of 17.
  • The dealer hits on a soft 17. This rule varies in Microgaming’s Pontoon offering, where the dealer stands on a soft 17.
  • The dealer stands on a 5-card trick hand.

The rules also vary slightly when it comes to payouts in Pontoon.

  • A pontoon hand pays out at 2:1.
  • A 5-card hand pays out at 2:1.
  • All other hands pay out even money, i.e. 1:1.

The above rules may vary, as mentioned, depending on the software provider behind the game. The variations also have an impact on the house edge.

  • A two-deck Pontoon game increases the house edge by 0.35%.
  • When a dealer stands on a soft 17 the house edge goes down by 0.47%.
  • When there is no draw for split Aces the house edge goes up by 0.49%.
  • When a player gets a 2-card hand of an Ace and a 10-value card that is not considered a pontoon, the house edge goes up by 0.49%.

Pontoon Strategy

Like all in all games of blackjack and its variants, strategy plays a great role in determining how you fare.

  • A good option is to split a hand of two 8s.
  • Splitting Aces is also a good option in games where split Aces result in a 2-card hand valued 21 and considered a pontoon. In Microgaming games where this rule is not followed, splitting may not be advisable.

The following are strategy charts for different games of Pontoon.

Pontoon Strategy for Microgaming Pontoon

This is a chart for hard totals.

Number of Cards

Hand Totals 4 3 2
21 S S S
20 S S S
19 S S S
18 S S S
17 H S S
16 DH S S
15 DH S S
14 DH H H
13 DH H H
12 DH H H
11 DH DH DH
10 DH DH DH
9 DH DH H
8 DH H H
7 DH H H
6 DH H H
5 DH H H
4 DH H H

The following is a chart for soft totals.

Number of Cards per Hand                   

Player Totals 4 3 2
A, 10 DH DS S
A, 9 DH DH S
A, 8 DH DH S
A, 7 DH H H
A, 6 DH H H
A, 5 DH H H
A, 4 DH H H
A, 3 DH H H
A, 2 H H
A, A H
8, 8 PS

For the above charts, the terms represent the following:

  • H: Hit
  • S: Stand
  • DH: Double if permitted, else Hit
  • DS: Double if permitted, else Stand
  • PS: Split if permitted, else Stand

Strategy Charts for Pontoon from RTG, Cryptologic, Playtech, and Galewind Software

The following strategy chart is for hard totals.

                 Number of Cards

Player Totals 4 3 2
21 S S S
20 S S S
19 S S S
18 S S S
17 H S S
16 DH S S
15 DH S S
14 DH H H
13 DH H H
12 DH H H
11 DH DH DH
10 DH DH DH
9 DH DH H
8 DH H H
7 H H
6 H H
5 H
4 H

 The following is a chart for soft totals.

Number of Cards per Hand

Player Totals 4 3 2
A, 10 DH DS S
A, 9 DH DH S
A, 8 DH DH S
A, 7 DH H H
A, 6 DH H H
A, 5 DH H H
A, 4 DH H H
A, 3 DH H H
A, 2 H H
A, A PH
8, 8 PS

For the above charts, the terms represent the following:

  • H: Hit
  • S: Stand
  • DH: Double if possible, else Hit
  • DS: Double if possible, else Stand
  • PH: Split if permitted, else Hit
  • PS: Split if permitted, else Stand

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